Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Hibiki is a young girl whose distinguishing characteristics are her superb tea-making skills, extreme cuteness, self-flagellating kindness, and an utter lack of magical talent. She is, nevertheless, the only assistant to Master Shirotsuki, a world-renowned expert in magical circles. When an experiment gone horribly awry leaves Hibiki homeless, the prestigious Kamisaid Academy of Magic takes her in on the strength of her apprenticeship with Shirotsuki. Unfortunately the magically inept Hibiki is horribly out of her depth, and simply can't cut it as a researcher, which leaves her but one option: to become a teacher. Teachers of course must deal with other subjects even more difficult that straight magic, such as problem student Ahito who has a vendetta against the idea of magic itself, and... Hibiki's own child?
Hibiki's Magic is the latest in a group of manga/anime such as Someday's Dreamers that, instead of grand adventure, focus on the ways that magic effects the everyday lives of its users. The personal focus is welcome, but the book is a little too compressed and rushed to evoke exactly the emotional response that it desires.
The book is essentially divided into three short stories and an extra chapter, all of varying degrees of success. The first manages to get by by exploiting the gentle chemistry between Hibiki and the Master, but the second shows clearly the strain of attempting to inspire feeling within the brisk short-story format, as it's difficult to sympathize with the characters, even given the obvious tragedy of Ahito's past. Tellingly, the most successful story heartstrings-wise is the longest of the three, which supplements Hibiki's already formidable cuteness with that of her "child". The melting preciousness of having a tiny girl-child with pro-mercenary 'tude and a penchant for smoking cigarettes, wearing sunglasses and blowing stuff up with a bazooka is questionable, but the conclusion—as Hibiki tries to do the right thing for her young charge, contrary to her own obvious feelings—is honestly touching.
The flip side to the periodic success of the book's personal, emotional focus is its inspirational tone, exemplified by the embarrassingly saccharine dialogue, which features such syrupy sweet zingers as "You're like this tea... you start at the bottom of my heart and warm me all the way up" and "Some magic is so powerful that it never goes away. The magic of happiness...!" You can almost feel the cavities setting in.
The dialogue isn't the only thing that aims straight for the sweet tooth, Rei Idumi's art is also hell-bent on enriching dentists everywhere. Given that she is drawing for another person (author Jun Maeda) the congruence of the art and content is surprising. The round-eyed, chubby-cheeked Hibiki is the very embodiment of innocence. And the other characters, seemingly perpetually on the edge of entering chibi territory, perfectly fit the precious tone of the series, though they do look strange during the more violent scenes, as when Ahito looks as if his head is on backwards during a scene in which he threatens Hibiki. Though Idumi knows exactly when to punctuate a scene with a one or two page spread, the rest of the pages are crowded with lots of tiny panels, giving the art an overall busy look that doesn't really suit the laid-back tone, probably an artifact of the attempt to fit just a little too much story into a short space. The importance of people to the story is mirrored in the art, which focuses on characters to the virtual exclusion of backgrounds.
This is one of Tokyopop's better books in terms of quality: nice and thick, with a spare, pleasing cover and glossy color intro. They even include a bonus story that explains some of Shirotsuki's early behavior and provides information about the price exacted for practicing magic. Also included are short written afterwords by the author and artist, a few rough early sketches of Hibiki, and a one-page bonus manga describing Idumi's impressions of Jun Maeda.
Don't come to Hibiki's Magic expecting a life-changing re-examination of magic. It's a heavy dose of pure cuteness for those who like their sweet-and-sour drama with lots of cheese.
Overall : C+
Story : B-
Art : C+
+ Cute, light magical entertainment with a few well-executed heart-tuggers.
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